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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
As the hangovers ebb away and the clean-up begins, a nation struggles to reconcile their fuzzy memories of the game with what they believe they know about their team. Was that really England crashing home four goals against Croatia? Were those white shirts actually passing the ball around the floor? Did they genuinely care? Yes, apparently so. After four years of spineless, clueless and feckless failure, it seems that England are back in business. Not since, oddly enough, the 4-2 victory over Croatia in Euro04, have we seen anything remotely as impressive as this.

From his first day on the job, Fabio Capello's intentions have been clear. To install composure, to encourage short passing and to wipe out the stupidity of long balls to short strikers. Zagreb was vindication of his belief that if you just do the simple things properly, everything else will follow.

In truth, Croatia were the better side for at least the first half hour, but there was a quiet resilience about England as they fortified themselves against Modric and co. Ashley Cole looked tentative, Theo Walcott looked terrified and David James seemed to be trying to get rid of three games worth of howlers in one go, but with John Terry and Rio Ferdinand in imperious form, they held their lines and the confidence of the centre-backs soon began to spill over the rest of the ranks. This grittiness, this refusal to buckle is of course the bare minimum of what we should expect of England, but these have been sparse times.

A cynic could argue that Croatia lost this game more than England won it, but that would be to ignore the visitors' competence under pressure. England still had to make their chances count and Walcott's finishing was sublime, smashing the perception that he is all pace and no product. It's easy to play champagne football when you're three goals to the good, so the ole-inducing freestyle of the last twenty minutes should be ignored, but the effectiveness and professionalism throughout should not. England were well worth their victory.

The first year in charge has been a learning experience for the Capello. He has learnt to ignore the presspack who told him that the honeymoon was over after a draw in a friendly, but who now want to renew their vows. He has learnt that England must always have a physical presence in the front line to guard against their habitual regression to long passing. He has learnt that when properly motivated, there is potential in this team for success. The problem with England has never been a lack of talent, just a lack of application and desire. With Capello in charge, could those days finally be over?